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Sunnova AP5 Conduit LLC v. Hunt County Appraisal District

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

August 19, 2019

SUNNOVA AP5 CONDUIT LLC, Appellant
v.
HUNT COUNTY APPRAISAL DISTRICT, Appellee

          On Appeal from the 196th District Court Hunt County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 85135

          Before Chief Justice Burns, Justice Richter [1], and Justice Rosenberg [2]

          OPINION

          ROBERT D. BURNS, III CHIEF JUSTICE

         Sunnova AP5 Conduit LLC appeals the trial court's summary judgment in favor of Hunt County Appraisal District (HCAD) denying Sunnova a tax exemption related to the value of appraised property arising from the installation or construction of a solar powered device. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         I.

         The parties stipulated to the following facts: Sunnova leases to Texas residents solar systems which are designed to convert radiant energy from the sun into electricity. In 2015, Sunnova installed and constructed a solar system at a residence in Hunt County, Texas, and leased the solar system to the homeowners.

         For fiscal year 2017, Sunnova filed an Exemption Application, requesting exemption for the solar device from HCAD pursuant to § 11.27 of the Texas Tax Code (the Exemption). HCAD denied the Exemption Application, and Sunnova timely protested. HCAD's appraisal review board heard Sunnova's protest and determined the solar device should be taxed at an appraised value of $9, 310. Upon receiving the board's final order, Sunnova filed suit appealing denial of its Exemption Application.

         The parties agree the solar device falls within the Exemption's definition of "solar energy device." The undisputed evidence also demonstrates that Sunnova is the sole owner of any tax credits related to the device.

         The trial court granted HCAD's motion for summary judgment and denied Sunnova's motion, concluding, but without stating a basis for its finding, that Sunnova was not entitled to the Exemption.

         II.

         Summary judgments present questions of law, reviewed de novo. Natividad v. Alexsis, Inc., 875 S.W.2d 695, 699 (Tex. 1994). When the parties file competing motions for summary judgment on the same issues and the trial court grants one motion and denies the other, the reviewing court must consider all of the summary judgment evidence presented by both sides, determine all questions presented, and if the trial court erred, render the judgment the trial court should have rendered. Valence Operating Co. v. Dorsett, 164 S.W.3d 656, 661 (Tex. 2005). When a trial court grants summary judgment for one movant and denies it for another without specifying the reason for its ruling, we may affirm the trial court's judgment if any of the grounds raised in the prevailing party's motion are meritorious. See Carlton v. Trinity Universal Ins., 32 S.W.3d 454, 458 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2000, pet. denied).

         Statutory construction is also a question of law, reviewed de novo. Tex. Dep't of Transp. v. Needham, 82 S.W.3d 314, 318 (Tex. 2002). Our primary objective when construing statutes is to give effect to the legislature's intent. Fort Worth Transp. Auth. v. Rodriguez, 547 S.W.3d 830, 838 (Tex. 2018). The plain meaning of the text expresses legislative intent unless legislative definition or context provides otherwise, or the plain meaning leads to an absurd result. Id. We "read statutes contextually to give effect to every word, clause and sentence" and "strive to give the provision a meaning that is in harmony with other related statutes." Id. at 838, 845 n.8. If we cannot determine legislative intent solely from the words of the statute and those words give rise to two or more reasonable interpretations, a statute is ambiguous. Id. at 838 (citing Tex. State Bd. of Exam'rs of Marriage & Family Therapists v. Tex. Med. Ass'n, 511 S.W.3d 28, 41 (Tex. 2017)). Moreover, statutory exemptions from taxation are strictly construed and all doubts are resolved against the exemption. See N. Alamo Water Supply Corp. v. Willacy Cty. Appraisal Dist., 804 S.W.2d 894, 899 (Tex. 1991). We construe statutory exemptions from taxation strictly "because they undermine equality and uniformity by placing a greater burden on some taxpaying businesses and individuals rather than placing the burden on all taxpayers equally." Id. All doubts are resolved in favor of the taxing authority and against the claimant. Bullock v. Nat'l Bancshares Corp., 584 S.W.2d 268, 272 (Tex. 1979).

Section 11.17 of the Texas Tax Code ...

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